"What's a Dad to Do?"
June 18, 2006 Father's Day Heb.12:1-11/various
The news headlines recently cause one to wonder if our social glue is dissolving; they remind us how tenuous social order is, how anarchy is potentially just a generation away. At Caledonia, one reporter commented that 'rule of law' seems to have given away in some respects to 'rule of terror'. Government, judicial, and police systems seem impotent to resolve a tense and violent situation. In Manitoba, native groups threaten to block rail lines this summer unless land claims are soon settled. In Toronto, security personnel are unable to control a crowd jostling to get inside a courtroom where 9 people were to make an appearance, accused of involvement in gangs and a Boxing Day killing of an innocent bystander. With the young age of some of these gang members, one can't help but wonder, "Where are the fathers?"
The Bible predicts increasing selfishness and disorder as the end times approach. It also implicitly links this increasing chaos with the failure of parents, more specifically fathers, to help the next generation learn healthy submission to legitimate authority. The focus shifts from doing what's good for others to satisfying one's own desires. 2Tim 3(1-4) predicts, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money...proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love...without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous...conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God..."
The Old Testament closes on a Messianic note, anticipating the coming of a prophet like Elijah who will spark a change of heart "before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." As the last verse in Malachi(4:6) records, God says the coming one "will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
Parents, and fathers in particular, have a vital role to play in cultivating attitudes of respect and proper submission in their families. That's essential for a civilization to prosper. Ask any school teacher! Keeping order in a classroom is much harder if the parents don't back the teacher up, or don't care. Ask Moses with two stone tablets in hand, as he delivers the fundamental basis for Jewish law and society: What's the very first of the Ten Commandments that deals with relationships on the human level? Ex.20:12 (echoed by Paul in Ephesians 6:1-3), "Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you." The parallel verse in Deut 5(16) adds, "so that it may go well with you in the land..."
Appreciating and upholding the role parents play is essential for social health. On this Father's Day, let's look at a 'top ten' list, 'what's a Dad to do?' The first five are more pro-active: formative, directing, shaping the mindset and priorities of your offspring; the last five are more re-active, responding to their behaviour.
(1) The first and most important thing any dad can do is to love each child as a 'favourite'. We see this exemplified in the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son. John 3:35, "the Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands;" 5:20, "the Father loves the Son and shows him all He does." Later in the gospel Jesus starts to extend this love-relationship in the Trinity to the love our Heavenly Father has for those who are in Christ. Jn 15:9, "as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.Now remain in my love." 16:27, "the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God."
With the way personalities mix and match, it's easier for a parent to love some offspring more than others. But we need to love each one as a 'favourite', and not show favouritism. (A quick review of our email inbox reveals Yvonne's father addressing her as "dearest favourite daughter" twice in the past week - of course she's his only daughter, but it's still nice to hear it put that way!) Unfortunately the Hebrew patriarchs fell short in this regard. Genesis 25(28) says, "Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob." This favouritism must have wounded Jacob to some extent, as he resorted to trickery to deceive his dad into conferring a blessing. But the problem re-occurred the next generation, when Jacob had his own 'favourites' amongst his 12 sons: "Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him." (Gen 37:3f) Love them dearly, each one as a 'favourite' - lest jealousy and bitterness develop.
(2) A second thing dads need to do is to BLESS your children. The Jews have kept this emphasis in some of their cultural traditions; perhaps you recall the touching scene in Fiddler on the Roof as the father, Tevye, prays a blessing on each child around the table as the Sabbath begins. God is a Heavenly Father who blesses us, so we may bless others in turn. God's call to Abraham in Gen 12(2) begins with these words: "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." Isaac blesses Jacob saying, "Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness-- an abundance of grain and new wine." (Ge 27:27-28) When older brother Esau finds out Jacob has cheated him out of the blessing of the firstborn that should have been his, he implores his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" Then Esau wept aloud." (Ge 27:38) Genesis 49, at the end of Jacob's life, is given over to beautiful word pictures as Jacob blesses each of his sons, in words that both describe them or identify them, and hint at their future progress.
It's important to let our kids know how much we love them, that they're special and unique, to bless them by actions and words. Gary Smalley and John Trent tell of a woman named Sara who was going through some of her father's personal things after his death. "Opening his Bible, she came across a pressed rosebud and 2 ticket stubs. Suddenly the memories came flooding back.[Sara says] 'I grew up in a poor family in the late 1940s. My father loved us very much and worked extremely hard to keep 5 kids in shoes and clothes. But still, most of our clothes were hand-me-downs from the missionary barrel at church. During high school, I struck gold with a wealthy family at church who needed a baby-sitter. I saved my money, and then one night, I wrote up a special invitation to my father, asking if he would go out with me on a special 'date' the next night. My father responded by picking up flowers on his way home from work, then brushing off and putting on his only nice suit - usually reserved for weddings or funerals. 'After all,' he said, 'It's not often you get to go out with the belle of the ball.'
'We went to a local restaurant and had hamburgers and chocolate milkshakes. Then we went to see a show, and we walked home together, arm in arm. I'll never forget how he hugged me when we got home, and how he told me he loved me, prayed for me, and was proud of me.' Looking at those ticket stubs and the faded rose from a special night nearly half a century ago, Sara realized how the power of that memory had warmed her days and encouraged her through all the intervening years. No matter what others may have thought of her, her father thought she was 'the belle of the ball'. No matter what she accomplished or failed to accomplish, she could still close her eyes and see the pride glistening in her father's eyes." He blessed her - helped her feel unique and special.
(3) Third, a chief function of a father is to train, instruct, and share God's commands with his kids. Don't sweat, men - you don't have to try to have a doctorate in theology! Start simple, things like the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, key memory verses, classic Bible stories from an illustrated Bible book, and work out from there. There's a wealth of family devotional tools out there - find one that works and make it part of your after-supper or bedtime routine. Supplement with Sunday School (notice that's a 'supplement' not sole source), Odyssey tapes, Veggie Tales, and talk about the meanings. Get them familiar with the basic structure and stories of God's truth, so the Holy Spirit can call it to mind for them long after you're gone.
This isn't 'Number 1' on the list because love precedes obedience. Jesus said in John 14(31), "the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me." In Deuteronomy 6(6-9) the Lord tells parents, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." Make God's teaching a really obvious part of your home environment - rotate verses on index cards on mirrors, on your car dash, and so on. Proverbs 1(8) says, "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching."
Coming to the New Testament, the most specific positive admonition addressed to dads is Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." 'Bring them up' comes from a verb meaning to feed or nourish; help them to chew on and savour God's saving truth. Don't let the tube or the internet be your child's main source of values!
(4) Fourth comes a feature which most families would probably put first, perhaps the only expectation of fathers: that of providing, supplying the family's physical needs. Jesus asked in Matthew 7(9-11), "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Part of fathering is supplying good things, what our children need. Paul wrote to Timothy (1Tim 5:8), "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." That's strong talk!
A father's role in providing is understood implicitly. Illinois Bell reported that the number of long-distance calls made on Father's Day was increasing faster than the number on Mother's Day. The company said the figures were accurate, even though it took several weeks longer to compile Father's Day statistics than it did for Mother's Day. The reason for the delay: Most calls on Father's Day were collect!
(5) Fifth, just as important as providing physically is to provide spiritually, for fathers to protect your family from the enemy by praying and interceding for them. Job 1(5) relates that when Job's 7 sons and 3 daughters had finished a course of feasting, "Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom." He was interceding, praying for them. When Bathsheba's infant son becomes ill after Nathan's prophecy of judgment for David's sin of adultery and murder, 2Sam 12(16) tells us, "David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground." During Jesus' ministry, a synagogue ruler named Jairus came to the Saviour and "pleaded earnestly" with Jesus to come and save his daughter's life (Mk 5:22f,36). While they were on the way, news arrived that she had died. But Jesus told this father, "Don't be afraid; just believe." Despite all the mourners and wailing at the home by the time they got there, Jesus raised the little girl to life. Sometimes in praying for our kids we really have to hang in there in intercession and "just believe".
So, there are five main pro-active things dads ought to do for their kids: love them dearly, bless them, train them in God's ways, provide for their needs, and pray for them. Now we turn to the other half of the 'top ten': things to do in response to their actions.
(1) First in this set is to ENCOURAGE, NOT EXASPERATE. 1Thessalonians 2(11-12) recalls how Paul worked with the young believers on his mission trip there: "For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." It's tough being a young person; your abilities and talents simply don't match up to those who are older or unusually gifted. So dads need to encourage and comfort their youngsters when they've not won the race, when their paper is returned with a lot of red ink on it, or when they've been shunned from the cool clique in the cafeteria. Perhaps that happened because Christian kids are perceived as 'different', not going along with the crowd; a dad needs to console a child thus excluded, and reinforce the truth that it's more important to please God than to give in to peer pressure. To live a life worthy of His calling.
Ephesians 6:4 warns fathers not to exasperate their sons and daughters; Colossians 3:21 says, "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." Excessive or arbitrary punishment (discipline for which there doesn't seem to be any reason) can be exasperating, and make the child feel bitter because the ground rules don't seem fair or reasonable. That gets demoralizing and discouraging, rather than encouraging. It's also exasperating when there's a double standard: the father is hypocritical, demanding the child behaves according to a standard to which the father doesn't hold himself accountable. If you don't want your child to lie, make sure you always tell the truth. If you don't want them to get picked up for shoplifting, don't try to sneak merchandise yourself. Encourage them to do what's right by being an example.
A little girl followed her father as he carefully stepped through a new garden. She stepped exactly where he stepped, saying: "Daddy, if you don't get mud on your feet, I won't get any mud on me!"
(2) Second, if their thinking isn't quite on track, try to REASON with them and help them see the bigger picture. Remember the older brother in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son - the one who stayed home to mind the farm, and always did what he was supposed to? Remember how when the Prodigal was welcomed back, the older brother became angry and refused to go in to join in the celebration? In Luke 15(28, 31f) Jesus says, "So his father went out and pleaded with him." He tried to reason with him, to help him see things differently. Yes, the older boy had worked for him consistently and never disobeyed his orders. How did the father reply? "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." The dad reasoned with the offended son. Training takes explanation, whether it's a two-year-old or a teen. Sometimes we may be tempted to just order them to do what we know is right, but that doesn't help build their understanding, their thinking / evaluating process and wisdom. Be patient and make sure they see all the angles, rather than cursorily 'lowering the boom'.
(3) Third, when a wrong has been committed, a dad needs to REBUKE AND RESTRAIN. In Genesis 34(30), when Jacob's daughter Dinah is violated by Shechem, Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi retaliate by killing all the men in that village, and plundering it. Jacob rebukes them: You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites..." In 1Sam 3(13f), God pronounces fatal judgment upon Eli and offspring because he has allowed his sons as priests to treat the offerings with contempt, and they kept being sexually immoral (1Sam.2:17,22): God says, "For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them." When our kids mess up, it's essential that we win their hearing and confront them, before worse things happen.
(4) Probably the most unpleasant task a dad has to do is to PUNISH wrong actions of his kids. No passing the buck to mom: dad should be the home's primary disciplinarian. (But make sure you've already been doing numbers 1-5 in the 'proactive' role! You're not just 'The Enforcer'!)
Jesus Himself in Matthew 15(4) reminds us, "For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'" In Psalm 89(30ff) God warns that if David's descendants forsake His law, "I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging..." Dealing with disobedience through consequences and punishment is clearly part of godly leadership. When David neglects to punish Absalom for murdering his brother, it sows the seeds of Absalom's later conspiracy and civil war (2Sam 14:33). Proverbs (13:24; 23:13f) teaches, "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him...Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death." Temporary, explained, non-injurious punishment - whether a 'time-out' or consequence or sometimes perhaps involving physical pain (not abuse!) - is preferable to standing aloof and watching a soul slide down a destructive path. Be careful to re-assure the child of your unconditional love and care after the immediate grief has subsided.
Our reading from Hebrews echoes the need for painful discipline: "What son is not disciplined by his father? ...we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it...God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:7ff)
(5) Last, an important re-active role for a dad is to FORGIVE AND RESTORE. Probably the most vivid picture of this in the Bible is Jesus' portrait of the prodigal's father being "filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." Then calling for a feast, and reinstating his son with the best robe and a ring of authority on his finger (Lk 15:20,22f). Forgotten is the squandered inheritance. Overlooked is the dissolute and debauched previous lifestyle. That's all behind them now; what's important is celebrating that the lost has been found, one who was dead is now alive again.
The picture of God in the Bible overall is not one who is unceasingly stern and vindictive; yes, He exhibits wrath towards evil, but ultimately He is loving and faithful, compassionate and merciful. As Psalm 103(13f) says, "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust."
The Importance of Involvement
Because God cares for us as a loving heavenly Father, He gets involved with us - disciplining and directing us, in our face when we need it, wanting us to share our burdens and discouragements with Him in prayer. Dads who are wise similarly take time for their offspring, because we're shaping them, consciously or otherwise. A young man stood before a judge to be sentenced for forgery. The judge had been a friend of the boy's father, who was famous for his books on the law of trusts. The judge said sternly, "Young man, do you remember your father, that father whom you have disgraced?" The young man answered quietly, "I remember him perfectly.When I went to him for advice or companionship, he would say, 'Run away, boy, I'm busy.' Well, my father finished his book, and here I am."
Contrast that with the better example of another dad, named Tom Block. A few years ago he resigned as Chief Executive Officer of H&R Block, the $1.7 billion tax preparation and financial services firm, to become a teacher at St. Francis Xavier middle school in Kansas City, Missouri. His annual salary suddenly dropped to less than $15,000 a year, about three percent of his old salary. But Block knew his hectic schedule as CEO had been interfering with his top priority: his wife and their two sons. "The hardest part was telling my father. But I didn't want to look back on my life and say, 'Gee, you had an opportunity to play a bigger role in your children's lives and didn't take it.'" (People Weekly) Let's pray.